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Fall getaways: Campsites abound for hunters, anglers in Arkansas

by Bryan Hendricks | October 21, 2021 at 2:06 a.m.
State parks are excellent base camps for hunting and fishing adventures all over Arkansas. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Bryan Hendricks)

Autumn is a grand time to take an overnight hike or canoe trip in Arkansas, and we have bountiful opportunities across the state.

If you prefer a traditional getaway with the comforts of home, Arkansas's state parks are excellent destinations. Some, like DeGray Lake State Park and Petit Jean Mountain State Park, have five-star lodging. DeGray Lake State Park also has a fine golf course, but keeping true to the outdoor spirit, we'll limit lodging suggestions to camping.

Most state parks have full-service campgrounds that can accommodate the biggest recreational vehicles. They have water and electrical hookups and waste tank discharge facilities.

Most state parks also have tent camping areas with water and electricity, and some have areas for primitive tent camping. Primitive sites have only tent pads with no amenities.

Several of my favorite state parks for camping are Withrow Springs State Park near Huntsville, White Oak Lake State Park near Camden, Lake Fort Smith State Park at Mountainburg, Lake Dardanelle State Park near Russellville and Village Creek State Park near Wynne.

Autumn foliage is vibrant and weather is pleasant in the Ozarks in mid October, making Withrow Springs a prime destination. Its woodsy nature gives the campground a cozy, private atmosphere, and you can take hot showers in the bathhouses. For that reason, I sometimes camp there when I hunt at Madison County Wildlife Management Area, which is nearby.

Excellent wade fishing for bass and sunfish is available at the park's south boundary in War Eagle Creek.

You can also camp in the Madison County WMA, an excellent spot for a weekend squirrel hunt. The WMA has a large number of primitive campgrounds. They are cleared areas in the woods with no amenities, but they are extremely peaceful and private. You can step out of your tent and start hunting immediately. The WMA also provides quick access to excellent smallmouth bass fishing on the Kings River at Rockhouse.

Lake Fort Smith State Park is very modern and offers an excellent camping base for kayak bass fishing trips on Lake Fort Smith. The western terminus of the Ozark Highlands Trail is here, too. You can have someone drop you off and pick you up a couple of weeks later at Richland Creek Recreation Area, the OHT's eastern terminus.

Ozark National Forest

Richland Creek Recreation Area, operated by the U.S. Forest Service, is among the many excellent camping/hiking/fishing options available in Arkansas's national forests. It's remote and hard to reach, but it is a tidy, well-conceived campground with sufficient privacy. Each site has a fire ring, lantern pole and tent pad. There's also room for recreational vehicles, but there are no utilities.

Smallmouth bass fishing is surprisingly good at Richland Creek despite its small size in that area. You can wade up or downstream to reach areas that are lightly fished.

The Ozark Highland Trail begins at the campground. You can arrive on a Friday, hike deep into the Richland Creek Wilderness Area, camp overnight and hike back on Sunday.

Other options in the Ozark National Forest are Wolf Pen Recreation Area near Oark, Redding Recreation Area near Cass, Fairview Recreation Area near Pelsor, Haw Creek Falls Recreation Area near Hagarville, and Ozone Recreation Area near Ozone.

Wolf Pen and Redding are on the Mulberry River, offering direct access to excellent smallmouth bass wade fishing. The fishing is better at Redding, but the campground is too much of a party spot, being so close to Arkansas 23. Wolf Pen is much quieter, but the Mulberry is smaller, which limits the fishing.

Fairview Recreation Area is on a mountaintop on State Arkansas 7 north of Dover. No fishing is available there, but you can walk the Ozark Highlands Trail into the Hurricane Creek Wilderness Area, which shelters some secluded fishing holes. That's an all-day walk, so you will have to camp in the wilderness area.

Ozone Recreation Area is also on a mountaintop on Arkansas 21. There's no fishing, but there is a trailhead for the Ozark Highlands Trail. The camping loop is shady, and the sites are fairly private.

Haw Creek Falls Recreation Area is on Haw Creek off Arkansas 123. Excellent fishing is available at Little Piney Creek nearby. A trailhead for the Ozark Highlands Trail is nearby, as well.

All of these areas are within national forest boundaries, providing limitless opportunities for squirrel hunting and deer hunting with archery equipment, muzzleloaders and modern firearms.

Ouachita National Forest

In Western Arkansas, Little Pines Recreation Area near Waldron is an all-around destination on Lake Hinkle, a fine but unknown bass and crappie lake. The campground also offers ready access to excellent hunting for squirrel, deer and quail in the pine-bluestem restoration area that encompasses the region. You read that right. Quail. The pine-bluestem restoration area has the most robust quail populations to be found on public land in the South.

Crystal Recreation Area is a neat, secluded little campground near Norman that is very close to the Caddo River. You can wade fish the Caddo near Norman, or you can launch a canoe at Caddo Gap.

Primitive car camping is also available at Fourche Mountain Recreation Area near Rover and at South Fourche Recreation area near Hollis.

Bard Springs Recreation Area, my favorite campground in the Ouachita National Forest, is just over the mountain from Shady Lake Recreation Area. Both are near excellent fishing on the Little Missouri River, which is stocked with rainbow trout beginning in November at Albert Pike Recreation Area.

These areas are all convenient to the Ouachita Trail and Womble Trail, both internationally renowned for hiking and mountain biking.

All of these campgrounds offer access to excellent deer hunting in the Ouachita National Forest. It is subject to statewide deer hunting regulations, and no special permits are required.

Arkansas wildlife management areas have plenty of undeveloped campsites, like this one at Madison County WMA, that make secluded bases for squirrel hunters and deer hunters in the fall.
(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Bryan Hendricks)
Arkansas wildlife management areas have plenty of undeveloped campsites, like this one at Madison County WMA, that make secluded bases for squirrel hunters and deer hunters in the fall. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Bryan Hendricks)

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